The last decades of the 19th century saw the rise of walking as recreation, which created a new use for tracks. This change was due to several factors:
- the beginning of international tourism in New Zealand
- the emergence of a middle class, interested in healthy pursuits
- a romantic fascination with alpine scenery, and a growing interest in native plants and animals.
The first purely recreational track was cut in the isolated rainforests of Fiordland. In 1880 Donald Sutherland, exploring from Milford Sound, discovered the spectacular Sutherland Falls. Eight years later Quintin McKinnon, exploring from Lake Te Anau, crossed over the pass which was given his name (spelled as Mackinnon). A 53-kilometre walking track was made from the lake to the sound. By the end of 1888 McKinnon was guiding tourists along the route.
Explorer Quintin McKinnon was renowned for cooking pompolonas, a type of scone, for his walking parties. In memory of this, one of the huts on the Milford Track was named Pompolona.
McKinnon drowned in 1892, and in 1903 guiding was taken up by the newly formed Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, which built Glade House at the head of Lake Te Anau. The Milford walk soon gained an international reputation. In 1908 an article in a London paper called it ‘the finest walk in the world’, and the description stuck.
In the summer of 1910–11, 2,627 people stayed at Quintin Hut near Sutherland Falls. The success of the Milford Track encouraged the cutting of other tracks in the area, notably the Routeburn and Greenstone trails at the head of Lake Wakatipu.
In 2006 over 200 people a day walked the Milford Track in the summer months (December to March).
North Island tracks
The establishment of Tongariro National Park in 1887 and the founding of the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts led to recreational development in the North Island. By 1904, huts had been built at Ketetahi and Waihohonu in the national park. The completion of the main trunk railway in 1908 increased the demand for walking trails. In 1929 the government built the Chateau Tongariro hotel on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu.
No high tea
In 1889 the newspapers reported that hikers were flocking to Tokaanu, near Lake Taupō, and that women were easily climbing Tongariro and in ecstasy over ‘the marvellous handiwork of Nature’ 1. But when Frances Beetham climbed the mountain three years later, she remarked that the group had to go without a cup of tea, as there was no wood to boil a ‘William’ (a billy, or pot).
The Camphouse – originally a military barracks in New Plymouth – was moved to Mt Taranaki (Mt Egmont) in 1891, as accommodation for walkers and climbers. The mountain became Egmont National Park (New Zealand’s second) in 1893, and tracks were built around and up it.
Wellington city-dwellers wanting a weekend in the hills turned to the Tararua Range. By 1895 there were separate track committees on both sides of the range. A track up Mt Holdsworth was completed, and Mountain House was built. In 1910 over 1,000 people climbed Holdsworth. Two years later a track was completed from Ōtaki Forks to Mt Alpha, forming the celebrated ‘southern crossing’ over the southern Tararuas. The Tararua Tramping Club (1919) intensified efforts to build a network of huts and walking tracks. In the 1920s the Five Mile Track from the Wainuiomata Valley to the Orongorongo River was cut.
To encourage healthy outdoor activity, the Physical Welfare Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs reopened the Harper Pass track in the late 1930s and built new huts, bureaucratically named Nos 1, 2, 3 and 4.